Our survey asked respondents to describe conflicts they have had with students within the past two years. Below is a sample of the numerous stories we received. The text has been edited to avoid reference to specific persons or institutions and to enhance clarity.
I had a very driven Asian male student in my class. He received a B+ on his research paper. During exam week he came to my office, which was deserted except for us. He demanded to know why he had a B+ for the course. We went back and forth for nearly an hour. He said, 'Well, why is it that in my other classes (math and science related courses) I'm getting Cs and Ds but I'm not angry with those instructors?" I answered that possibly it was because he saw those courses as more objective than [this one], but thinking it over later I wondered whether it was because his other instructors were male, but I don't know. At this point the student appeared very agitated and angry and I felt it best to move to a standing position because of the way he was hovering almost threateningly over me. . . . [As he was leaving the student] said, 'One of these days I'm going to come back and I'm going to kill you.'
A very large male student was unhappy with his grade on a paper; he stood very close to me, bent down close to my face, and proceeded to speak (yell) loudly and threateningly. I very firmly told him that I would not discuss his paper grade until the next class day when he had had a chance to think about the paper and my comments. When he came to my office hours after the next class day, he very firmly closed my office door (I usually leave it open) then pulled his chair up close to mine. He was angry and attempting to blame me for his grade--'you said you wanted . . .,' etc.
A male student tried to get me to change a grade on his essay by shouting, insulting, and physically intimidating me by standing too close, leaning towards me, and waving his arms. When I reported him to my supervisor and the professor (male) spoke to the student, the student exhibited none of the above behavior.
I've had one clear cut case of harassment from a male student who openly resented the course content (we critiqued sexism in advertising, for example) and announced his resentment of women. In a private conference with me, he described his hatred of his mother, on whom he blamed all his problems, and as he described his feelings he invaded my personal space, raised his voice, and claimed he was so angry with me he could slap me.
I was teaching basic writing, an average class. I ran into a colleague who was younger, shorter, quieter than myself. She said she had this student in her class who was thoroughly obnoxious and sexist to her. She was going to have him moved. The university moves students in these situations at the student's convenience to another class at the same time. He ended up in my class. I thought, I'm older, taller, more experienced, have a louder voice. I will deal w/ him better than she could. Boy, was I wrong. From day one this guy was belligerent and obnoxious. His fellow students learned quickly to dislike him, That was a mercy. He created in instant community in my class. I spoke to the composition coordinator. He sent a male faculty member to speak to this guy before my class one day. We both decided he needed to be called on the carpet by someone other than me. He ignored my authority, so we sent someone we thought he wouldn't ignore. It didn't help. I was ill one day and my husband took my classes. This guy had the gall to make all sorts of sexual remarks and jokes about me in class that day, until my husband announced that he was my husband. Then this guy apologized profusely. What made things worse was that he never turned in any work. He would come to my office and act like he had been a bad son and beg my forgiveness-- this lasted for 3 weeks, until he realized that I wasn't buying it. Then he became more belligerent in class. Finally, I had a conference with him and I told him I was dropping him from the class because he could only fail if he remained. The following morning before class, he showed up at my office and begged my forgiveness. When I refused, he got angry and threatened me. A teacher next door called the police and then came out and announced that the police were on their way. He left. The police suggested that they accompany me to class. They did. He was there. They removed him. In a subsequent interview w/ the dean, he complained that I hated men. The dean commiserated w/ him and explained that the university was full of angry women, so he'd better keep his head down. There, that's my story.
A male student called me "stupid" in class and told me, in front of other students, that he only comes to class because I am pretty. The semester culminated when he described an attack/rape of his English teacher.
A homework assignment from a student named 'Fu' was turned in, and in another color somebody had added to his name 'ck (my name)'.
A group of young men continually gossiped together at the back of the class. When I asked them to share it with the class, they laughed raucously. After class, a female student told me they regularly discussed what I looked like under my dress.
A student wrote and handed in a journal entry that was sexually explicit and directed specifically toward me (detailed what he would like to do with/to various parts of my anatomy).
While 60 percent of the female teachers who responded to our survey described experiences with student-to-teacher harassment, many other respondents said that they didn't believe student to teacher harassment could happen because teachers had more "power" than students. Taking a brief look at the official definition of sexual harassment, we can see why some may hold to the perspective that those in a lower position of institutional authority have no power to harass.